5.31.2009

Race Matters


I remain solidly Republican in terms of adhering to social and fiscal conservatism, having a willingness to play the ever-important role of loyal opposition at the neighborhood, local, and national level, and holding out hope for quality candidates in the next elections. But I must say I am disappointed with what much of what my party is saying is getting most of the press.

Take the recent nomination by President Obama of Sonia Sotomayor. Many Republicans are digging in their heels because they feel they have to contest everything. Supreme Court justice openings don't happen very often, so perhaps there's an even more visceral need to come out swinging. Even worse, there seems to be a dread that Ms. Sotomayor is one of "those" types, an activist judge who (gasp!) will interpret the law based on her experience as a Latina, rather than neutrally.

And yet the whole point of diversity is to have a variety of perspectives so that groups can, as a group, come to topics more objectively. To suggest that Ms. Sotomayor is unqualified to be an effective arbiter of legal cases because she represents a particular perspective is to suggest that somehow, white men do not themselves represent a particular perspective. This is the premier privilege among all the privileges of being in the majority: that somehow, everyone else's point of view automatically represents a particular bias, while the majority's can be automatically presumed neutral.

(This point was reinforced for me when, in a leadership class, participants were asked to interview whites about what it was like to be white, or men about what it was like to be male, or heterosexuals about what it was like to be heterosexual. Not surprisingly, it was difficult to ask and answer questions, because we have never had to think about our own bias in such situations. And yet we all have our biases. Even worse, when we are not constantly challenged to think about our own perspective and that of others, we end up being even more biased. Not to say that minorities automatically have more objectivity, but neither to say they automatically have less.)

The demographic fact of the matter is that we are fast becoming a majority-minority nation. And, to the extent that the Republican Party is about social and fiscal conservatism, this is good news for the Party: it is a message that should have just as much if not more resonance with a wide range of people from a wide range of backgrounds. But the more the Republican Party looks like a once-in-power
"good ol' boys" group that wants to freeze status quo privileges and reactionarily vilify challenges to that status quo, the more I lament where it's going and wonder when it'll get back to its basic tenets. For all its "playing to the base," it's missing out on building a real base based on its more fundamental values.

PS Oh, and by the way, Ms. Sotomayor is filling David Souter's spot, so even if she ends up being a "dependable liberal," this doesn't fundamentally change the make-up of the Supreme Court. And, for that matter, Ms. Sotomayor's track record seems to suggest she will be pretty fair-minded and if anything pro-business. So, in case you were wondering about my opinion of her as a potential Supreme Court judge, on non-racial merits alone, I'd be fine with her.
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